September 23, 2019

President Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and members of Trump's Cabinet are pretty open about wanting a scandal involving Trump personally pressuringpossibly extorting — Ukraine's president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner to challenge him in next year's presidential race, to be a story about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and alleged "corruption." Reporters have been digging around for months, and there just doesn't seem to be much there.

The allegation from Trump and Giuliani is that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a state prosecutor to quash an investigation into a Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky, whose gas company Burisma hired Hunter Biden to sit on its board of directors in 2014. Some of that is true — Joe Biden has openly said he successfully pressured Ukraine in 2016 to fire the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, or lose $1 billion in U.S. grant money.

But the first problem for Trump's accusation, The Wall Street Journal reports, is that "Shokin had dragged his feet into those [Zlochevsky] investigations, Western diplomats said, and effectively squashed one in London by failing to cooperate with U.K. authorities." In fact, Shokin was widely viewed as corrupt and ineffective. "The whole G-7, the IMF, the EBRD, everybody was united that Shokin must go, and the spokesman for this was Joe Biden," says Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Zlochevsky's allies were "relieved" by Shokin's dismissal, The New York Times reports, because while "Shokin was not aggressively pursuing investigations into Mr. Zlochevsky or Burisma," he "was using the threat of prosecution to try to solicit bribes from Mr. Zlochevsky and his team." Zlochevsky has never been convicted of any wrongdoing, despite "a push by Obama administration officials for the United States to support criminal investigations by Ukrainian and British authorities, and possibly for the United States to start its own investigation, into the energy company, Burisma," and Zlochevsky, the Times adds. Biden never did anything to deter those efforts, his former colleagues say.

Hunter Biden, who has never been accused of wrongdoing in Ukraine, "is no longer on the Burisma payroll," The Washington Post notes. "In the Trump era, a different cast of characters is winning contracts in Ukraine. One of the players? Giuliani," who has "found ready clients in Ukraine, where people think that U.S. political wisdom can get results." Peter Weber

October 22, 2019

While working on a bribery case against Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash, federal prosecutors in Chicago came across Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, business associates of Rudy Giuliani who were later arrested on charges of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. elections, The Washington Post reports.

Two people familiar with the matter told the Post that when Parnas and Fruman were arrested earlier this month, the Chicago prosecutors called their New York counterparts to offer assistance, as they believe there may be a deeper relationship between Firtash, Parnas, and Fruman. In 2013, the Chicago prosecutors charged Firtash with bribing officials in India in order to mine in the country. Prosecutors say Firtash, who now lives in Austria and is fighting extradition to the United States, has ties to the Russian mob; he denies this.

In July, Firtash hired Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, two conservative lawyers known for defending President Trump on television, to represent him in the United States. He did this on Parnas' recommendation, the Post reports, and Parnas served as their interpreter. Not long after Firtash hired Toensing and diGenova, the attorneys were able to get a coveted in-person meeting with Attorney General William Barr and other Justice Department officials to argue against the charges, three people with knowledge of the matter told the Post, but Barr chose not to intercede.

Parnas and Fruman had a close relationship with Giuliani, and they worked together in Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Democrats. Prosecutors are now looking to see if Firtash played a "shadow role" in this effort, the Post reports, something his lawyers deny. Last week, Giuliani told the Post that Firtash is an "interesting person" but he doesn't know him personally. For more on Firtash, and how Parnas and Fruman dropped his name while trying to drum up business, visit The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2019

Award-winning journalist Gwen Ifill, the late PBS NewsHour anchor who also served as moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, is being celebrated by the United States Postal Service.

On Tuesday, the USPS unveiled a new Forever stamp featuring a 2008 photograph of Ifill taken by Robert Severi. It is the 43rd stamp in the Black Heritage series, and will be issued in 2020.

In a statement, the USPS said Ifill was among "the first African Americans to hold prominent positions in both broadcast and print journalism," and a "trailblazer in the profession." Ifill died in November 2016 of complications from cancer; she was 61. Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2019

With more and more shoppers asking for cruelty-free and sustainable merchandise, Macy's and Bloomingdale's have decided to phase out fur.

Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores, including outlets, will stop selling fur products by February 2021. Fur vaults and salons, which offer storage and repairs, will also shut down. "This announcement is consistent with the views of countless consumers in the marketplace, and other retailers should follow," Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Kitty Block said in a statement.

Fur production is down in the United States, NBC News reports, and luxury designers like Chanel, Gucci, and Armani have said they will stop using it in their products, focusing instead on faux fur. Earlier this month, California became the first state to ban the sale and manufacture of fur items, starting in 2023. Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2019

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have two different takes on a conversation they may have had about Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

During his chat with Zelensky, Trump pushed him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, neither of whom has been accused of wrongdoing. In late September, McConnell released a statement saying he "read the summary of the call" and it is "laughable to think this is anywhere close to an impeachable offense."

On Oct. 3, Trump told reporters that McConnell "put out a statement that said that was the most innocent phone call he's read. And I spoke to him about it, too. He read my phone call with the president of Ukraine. Mitch McConnell, he said, 'That was the most innocent phone call that I've read.' I mean, give me a break."

McConnell remembers things a little differently. When asked by CBS News on Tuesday about his conversation with Trump, McConnell said he has not spoken with Trump about the Ukraine phone call, the genesis of the House impeachment inquiry. When asked if Trump was lying, McConnell responded: "You'd have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the president about that phone call." Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2019

When President Trump speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference next week in Chicago, the city's top cop won't be there.

A spokesman for Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said on Tuesday that while he will attend several of the conference's events, Johnson will not be in the crowd for Trump's speech on Monday. "The values of the people of Chicago are more important to him than anything that could be discussed at that speech," Anthony Guglielmi said.

This will be Trump's first visit to Chicago as president. He has made it clear that he does not agree with the way Chicago is governed or policed, saying in 2017 that he wanted to "send in the Feds" to deal with gun violence. During a rally that same year in Florida, Trump told the crowd, "There are those who say that Afghanistan is safer than Chicago, okay? ... You know what's wrong with Chicago? Weak, ineffective politicians." Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2019

The world now knows exactly how Susan Rice feels about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Rice, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013 and was former President Barack Obama's national security adviser from 2013 to 2017, sat down with two other Obama officials — Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor — for their podcast, Pod Save the World. In a clip released Tuesday afternoon, Rhodes said that in order to understand President Trump, "you have to understand Benghazi," referring to the 2012 attack in Libya, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Vietor responded, "Right, because Lindsey Graham isn't just a piece of s--t now," and was quickly interrupted by Rice. "He's been a piece of s--t," she said with a laugh. "I said it. I said it, damnit, finally. He's a piece of s--t." Vietor added that Graham was "lying, lying, lying" about the attack, and "raising money off of the death of four Americans."

Rice and Graham went toe to toe in the wake of the Benghazi attack, as Republicans accused Rice of intentionally misleading the public, with Graham among the loudest voices. It was determined during 10 separate investigations that no members of the Obama administration lied or engaged in a cover-up, and when that conclusion was shared in a report released in November 2014 by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, Graham was heated. "That's a bunch of garbage," he told CNN. Graham said Rice went on television after the attack and declared on "three different occasions the consulate was strongly, and significantly, secure." Nothing, he added, "could be further than that from the truth." Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2019

The anonymous op-ed writer is still very anonymous.

But there might be a lot more linguistic clues to figure out their identity coming soon, along with a whole new look inside the Trump White House. That's because the anonymous senior official who wrote a New York Times op-ed about the silent "resistance" working under President Trump is writing a whole book called A Warning, their publisher said Tuesday.

It's been more than a year since an op-ed by an anonymous Trump senior official appeared in The New York Times, calling Trump's leadership style "impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective" and saying they are among a quiet "resistance" trying to stop Trump from executing the worst decisions. Pretty much every Trump official denied they wrote it, and the author's identity still hasn't been revealed.

Now, that person has written a whole book promising to be an expansion of the "behind-the-scenes portrait of the Trump presidency" they wrote for the Times. The author's literary agent wouldn't comment on whether the person still worked for the White House, but did say they will "donate a substantial amount of any royalties to the White House Correspondents Association and other organizations that fight for a free press that seeks the truth," per the Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

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